Six months after Susan Woolley donated her kidney to Jesse Macias, the longtime friends and colleagues catch up over breakfast in downtown San Diego.
"It's a new lease on life. I really owe it to Susie and what she did for me. I can never repay her. It just means so much to me, " says Jesse Macias.
"I think it changed my life in the gratitude I feel. I'm so happy that I did what I did to change his life," says Susan Woolley.
Susan is a video editor at NBC7. Jesse is a former local news reporter, who suffers from poly cystic kidney disease.
Until his transplant surgery in August, Jesse says it was a struggle just to eat a meal.
"Now, I can sit down for a while and not worry about the next day, or the next 30 minutes, of what can happen to me," says Macias.
Susan was able to donate directly to Jesse because their blood types match and other markers were compatible.
But often, people who want to donate to a specific person are not a match.
That's where the National Kidney Registry comes in.
It works with transplant hospitals around the country, including Sharp Memorial Hospital in Kearny Mesa, to pair up compatible living donors.
"The main advantage of a living donor is you get a higher quality organ," says Barry Browne, M.D. transplant surgeon at Sharp Memorial Hospital.
Santee resident Anesi Koria donated his kidney to the National Kidney Registry because he was not a match with his wife, Jill, who needed a transplant.
Anesi's kidney went to someone in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In return, his wife Jill got a kidney from someone else in the registry.
"Knowing how my wife's quality of life is, and knowing I'd done it for a young gentleman in Cincinnati, it makes you feel good. You feel good for helping somebody in that way," said Koria.
8 living donors have given their kidneys to the National Kidney Registry through Sharp Memorial Hospital, simply out of the goodness of their hearts.
The hope is more people will follow their lead.
"There are 3 to 4 hundred thousand people on dialysis, most of whom could use a kidney transplant. but there are only about 7 thousand cadaver donors a year. There are another 50 to 100 million potential donors walking around, who could give up one of their kidneys and still live a healthy normal health life," says Dr. Browne.
Kidney failure is not reversible, unlike heart disease or liver disease, which can improve with diet and lifestyle changes.
"By the time we figure out someone has kidney disease, it's usually past the point where we can do much to improve their kidney function," says Dr. Browne.
The wait for a kidney donation can take five to seven years.
In California, only about 11 percent of people who need a kidney actually get one.
A third of those donations come from living donors.
"The problem is, kidney failure is an epidemic in the United States because diabetes and blood pressure are so common," says Dr. Browne.
What's not common are donations from people who are alive, like Susan.
"We have a shortage of donors, not a shortage of organs," says Dr. Browne.
Because she donated her kidney, Susan will get priority at Sharp Memorial Hospital, should she ever need any kind of transplant later in life.
Susan's kidney donation also had an unexpected outcome.
"The positive influence on my children. Afterwards, I think they were very proud. Also, they looked at each other and said, 'You know, I can do that for you. I can do that.' They realized how important it would be in someone else's life. That's huge," says Woolley.